The Corner

Harvard to Offer a Class on The Wire

Last year, Jonah wrote:

At the National Review Institute “future of conservatism” panel, I made the off-the-cuff point that conservatives generally should have embraced The Wire far more than we did. It’s funny, the show obviously has bipartisan fans, but it was something of a favorite among liberals. Of course, most no doubt liked it in no small part for the same reasons I did: it was brilliantly written, wonderfully acted and almost perfectly directed.  And yet, one also got the sense that liberals also endorsed its focus on the underclass and its effort to “raise awareness” about the plight of inner cities and the like. […]

But look at it through the eyes of a conservative. This is a Democratic city, run almost uniformly by liberals. While many of the problems most prominently on display can certainly be traced back to racism, racism itself is not a central issue in The Wire (nor is racism an inherently or historically conservative phenomena). These drug gangs and the poor souls in their orbit, are not trapped by racism so much as by a dysfunctional culture.

I think David Simon would agree with this conclusion, but not about the source of the dysfunction. Conservatives watch The Wire and nod: Sow dependency and reap the disintegration of the traditional family. Put your faith in government, and prepare to be disappointed.

But Simon’s target isn’t the welfare state. To the contrary, Simon views the show as an indictment of capitalism. It makes no difference to him that liberal reformers fill the ranks of city government. In a capitalist system, reformers are bought, sold, or crushed by the money men.

Speaking generally, conservatives watch The Wire and see a part of America that has been failed by some really terrible ideas about how to fight poverty. Liberals watch The Wire and see America, full stop. Simon believes that the world depicted in The Wire is the logical endpoint of a system that (in his view) treats people like commodities. His vision doesn’t require him (or us) to contemplate the alternative — a system that (in my view) treats people like slaves.

Why bring this up now? Because the entirely predictable Harvard class on The Wire has arrived, and it’s everything we thought it would be:

Harvard students will be able to watch the “The Wire” for class credit next year.

At a panel last night, stars of the HBO hit series joined Harvard professors in discussing the applications of the show—which depicts the struggles of urban life in Baltimore—in understanding and combating real urban social issues.

“‘The Wire’ has done more to enhance our understanding of the systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the poor than any published study” Sociology Professor William J. Wilson said.

We’re near the point where a student can fill four years of college with classes built around TV shows. I’m interested to see the logical endpoint of that.

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